Scenes from Spring Training: Finding cool things in Scottsdale

13 Comments

Scottsdale is a strange place. It was once named one of “America’s most livable cities,” but most of it gives off an air of exclusivity, telling you that if you don’t like golf, trendy restaurants and expensive planned communities, you’re not going to enjoy yourself very much here.  Which is fine for Scottsdale, because there are a lot of people who like those things, so this is all my problem, not Scottsdale’s.

But there are little exceptions, I’m finding.  One exception is a nice cozy establishment called TT Roadhouse where this reporter replenished himself last night. Fine place. Dark with a good jukebox. Good beer and an unassuming clientle that, at least last night, was on the safe side of excessive hipsterism, the presence of PBR on draft notwithstanding. It made me happy that such a place exists in a town like Scottsdale, suggesting that no matter how far our Republic slides sideways, there will always be something good and cool surviving in the cracks.

Another nice thing is Scottsdale Stadium, spring home of the San Francisco Giants.  It opened in 1992, which was an awkward time for any ballpark to have been built, what with the new wave of nostalgic joints not yet crashing over the ballpark construction industry and the march toward opulence not yet firmly taking hold. A park built at that time ran a pretty high risk of being a utilitarian nightmare.

Scottsdale Stadium avoids that, however. Part of that may be the result of a recent renovation, but the bones of the place are solid, strong and altogether pleasant. The first pitch is a couple hours away, but it all seems like a pleasant and efficient baseball game delivery device. In this — and in its in-town, on-the-grid location — it reminds me a lot of City of Palms Park in Fort Myers where the Red Sox play.  I think I’m going to enjoy myself today.

When I got here I headed down to the Giants’ clubhouse and checked that scene out a bit. More on that later.  For now, though, know this: the Giants are a very relaxed bunch. A veteran team doing veteran team things.  There are reminders that they are the reigning World Series champs everywhere you look. It’s written on signs and shirts and most conspicuously, on that freshly-painted logo behind home plate, still roped off as I type this and the Giants take the field for their pregame workout.

A pregame workout that I’m going to go check out now and report back to you later.

Yankees star Judge hits 61st home run, ties Maris’ AL record

aaron judge
Cole Burston/Getty Images
2 Comments

TORONTO — Aaron Judge tied Roger Maris’ American League record of 61 home runs in a season, hitting a tiebreaking, two-run drive for the New York Yankees in the seventh inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday night.

The 30-year-old slugger drove a 94.5 mph belt-high sinker with a full-count from left-hander Tim Mayza over the left-field fence at Rogers Centre. The 117.4 mph drive took just 3.8 seconds to land 394 feet from the plate, and it put the Yankees ahead 5-3.

Judge watched the ball clank off the front of the stands, just below two fans who reached over a railing and tried for a catch. He pumped an arm just before reaching first and exchanged a slap with coach Travis Chapman.

The ball dropped into Toronto’s bullpen and was picked up by Blue Jays bullpen coach Matt Buschmann, who turned it over to the Yankees.

Judge’s mother and Roger Maris Jr. rose and hugged from front-row seats. He appeared to point toward them after rounding second base, then was congratulated by the entire Yankees team, who gave him hugs after he crossed the plate.

Judge moved past the 60 home runs Babe Ruth hit in 1927, which had stood as the major league mark until Maris broke it in 1961. All three stars reached those huge numbers playing for the Yankees.

Barry Bonds holds the big league record of 73 for the San Francisco Giants in 2001.

Judge had gone seven games without a home run – his longest drought this season was nine in mid-August. This was the Yankees’ 155th game of the season, leaving them seven more in the regular season.

The home run came in the fourth plate appearance of the night for Judge, ending a streak of 34 plate appearances without a home run.

Judge is hitting .313 with 130 RBIs, also the top totals in the AL. He has a chance to become the first AL Triple Crown winner since Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in 2012.

Maris hit No. 61 for the Yankees on Oct. 1, 1961, against Boston Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard.

Maris’ mark has been exceeded six times, but all have been tainted by the stench of steroids. Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998 and 65 the following year, and Bonds topped him. Sammy Sosa had 66, 65 and 63 during a four-season span starting in 1998.

McGwire admitted using banned steroids, while Bonds and Sosa denied knowingly using performing-enhancing drugs. Major League Baseball started testing with penalties for PEDs in 2004, and some fans – perhaps many – until now have considered Maris the holder of the “clean” record.

Among the tallest batters in major league history, the 6-foot-7 Judge burst on the scene on Aug. 13, 2016, homering off the railing above Yankee Stadium’s center-field sports bar and into the netting above Monument Park. He followed Tyler Austin to the plate and they become the first teammates to homer in their first major league at-bats in the same game.

Judge hit 52 homers with 114 RBIs the following year and was a unanimous winner of the AL Rookie of the Year award. Injuries limited him during the following three seasons, and he rebounded to hit 39 homers with 98 RBIs in 2021.

As he approached his last season before free agent eligibility, Judge on opening day turned down the Yankees’ offer of an eight-year contract worth from $230.5 million to $234.5 million. The proposal included an average of $30.5 million annually from 2023-29, with his salary this year to be either the $17 million offered by the team in arbitration or the $21 million requested by the player.

An agreement was reached in June on a $19 million, one-year deal, and Judge heads into this offseason likely to get a contract from the Yankees or another team for $300 million or more, perhaps topping $400 million.

Judge hit six homers in April, 12 in May and 11 in June. He earned his fourth All-Star selection and entered the break with 33 homers. He had 13 homers in July and dropped to nine in August, when injuries left him less protected in the batting order and pitchers walked him 25 times.

He became just the fifth player to hold a share of the AL season record. Nap Lajoie hit 14 in the AL’s first season as a major league in 1901, and Philadelphia Athletics teammate Socks Seabold had 16 the next year, a mark that stood until Babe Ruth hit 29 in 1919. Ruth set the record four times in all, with 54 in 1920, 59 in 1921 and 60 in 1927, a mark that stood until Maris’ 61 in 1961.

Maris was at 35 in July 1961 during the first season each team’s schedule increased from 154 games to 162, and baseball Commissioner Ford Frick ruled if anyone topped Ruth in more than 154 games “there would have to be some distinctive mark in the record books to show that Babe Ruth’s record was set under a 154-game schedule.”

That “distinctive mark” became known as an “asterisk” and it remained until Sept. 4, 1991, when a committee on statistical accuracy chaired by Commissioner Fay Vincent voted unanimously to recognize Maris as the record holder.